Asian provocative



FOURTH ESTATE, 352pp, 12.99

IMAGINE THE ORGASMIC squeal that rang through the offices of Fourth Estate on procuring 30-year-old Gautam Malkani's debut novel, Londonstani. The moment for gushing, middle-class liberals to connect with the "real" Asian experience had arrived. Via a Cambridge graduate who is an editor at the Financial Times, that is.

Touted as a gritty portrayal of macho Asian youth who menace the streets of Hounslow, it's a stupidly written tale of teenage inanity.

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The novel opens with senseless racist violence, as Hardjit, a hulking Punjabi brute, batters a swotty white kid who tries to shield himself with library books.

Hardjit is a preening alpha-queen, a weightlifter who loves his clothes. Weedy narrator Jas adores his "perfectly built body".

They and their two friends, Ravi and Amit, mince around Hounslow in a lilac BMW, while retaking their A-levels and embarking on an implausible scam involving mobile phones.

None of the characters has depth, though we are subjected to the bloodcurdling triviality of their preoccupations at great length. Cars and pop music are important. "Take the body on a Lexus SC400. Like Christina Aguilera. The curves on the Audi TT make it J-Lo while the Porsche 911 GTS got a booty like Beyonc."

Mobile phones are also a priority. "He'd got his own E700 by legally upgrading his old Nokia 6310 (his others being a Nokia 2600 and a Nokia 7210)." Despite their nerdy obsession with phones, they have nothing to say. Their dialogue is excruciating.

I initially thought this was all an Ali G-style spoof, it's so daft; but Londonstani is presented as the untold story of the Asian experience in Britain. Malkani's formula for creating characters is to take the worst stereotypes of young blacks - stupidity, fecklessness, criminality - and apply them to Asians. He writes in an almost impenetrable gibberish which Fourth Estate execs call "the vibrant language" of Asian youth today.

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Given Malkani's own story - a Hounslow boy rises through Cambridge to become a media high-flyer - and the extraordinary contrasts and juxtapositions it must contain, I'm intrigued as to why he's devoted more than 300 pages to these nitwits. He ignored the most interesting material at his disposal, choosing instead to write a tale that panders to cosseted middle-class notions of edginess.

• Nirpal Dhaliwal is the author of Tourism (Vintage, 7.99).

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